Paris-Geneva, June 16, 2023 - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), will observe today the appeal hearing of Mr Panayote Dimitras and Ms Andrea Gilbert, Spokesperson of the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and GHM specialist on anti-Semitism, respectively, at the Athens Court of Appeal in Greece.
Human rights defenders, particularly those who denounce hate speech and work for the protection and defense of minorities, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers’ rights, are subjected to severe criminalisation and judicial harassment in Greece. Mr Dimitras and Ms Gilbert are two among them. On February 15, 2022, the Three-Member Misdemeanours Court of Athens imposed them a twelve-month prison sentence suspended for three years on the charge of “false accusation” (Article 229 of the Criminal Code of Greece). They appealed this decision, and the Athens Court of Appeal will hear the case today, June 16, 2023. Two Observatory representatives will observe the hearing.
“The Greek Helsinki Monitor and its members have been under the authorities’ radar for more than a decade simply for exercising their right to defend human rights. Their targeting is not an isolated incident but part of a wider context of criminalisation and harassment against human rights defenders in the country,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.
The judicial procedure against both human rights defenders is related to a complaint for “public incitement to violence or hatred” and “abuse of ecclesiastical office” they filed in April 2017 before the Department for Combating Racist Violence (Attica Division) of the Hellenic Police against the Metropolitan Bishop of Piraeus Seraphim. According to GHM’s complaint, the content of a public statement the Bishop made on April 27, 2017, was antisemitic and incited discrimination, hatred, or violence against Jewish people in a way that endangered public order or posed a threat to lives, liberty of physical integrity. Nonetheless, while the Greek authorities archived the complaint, the public prosecutor brought the charge of “false accusation” against Mr Dimitras and Ms Gilbert and referred them to trial without previously investigating, as prescribed by law. The prosecutor framed the Metropolitan Bishop of Piraeus Seraphim’s statements as “part of the Church doctrine”.
“The systematic harassment of human rights defenders, and particularly of defenders of the rights of minorities and migrants in Greece, is indefensible. We call for all cases against the Greek Helsinki Monitor and its associates to be immediately closed, and on the authorities to guarantee an enabling environment for the defense of human rights", said Alice Mogwe, FIDH President.
In fact, since November 2022, Panayote Dimitras faces serious criminal charges in a separate case as reprisals for his work defending migrants’ rights. This takes place in a context of systematic violations of international human rights standards by the Greek authorities, including illegal pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants. As the investigations into Dimitras’ legitimate human rights activities are ongoing, he has been imposed several restrictive and disproportionate measures, which include a travel ban, a duty to report to the police twice a month, a €10,000 bail, and a prohibition to work with the GHM and to carry out any activity on behalf of the organisation. Recently some Greek media published leaked information about an alleged asset freeze imposed on him and his organisation. To date, Dimitras has not received any official notification.
The Observatory urges the Greek authorities to guarantee and comply with internationally recognised human rights standards of fair trial and due process and to fully adhere to and respect the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.